A cash-strapped housing association has increased rents despite spending nearly £2
million on restructuring, outside consultants and staff training sessions led by a man who believes in angels.
In the space of three years, Maryhill Housing Association (MHA) forked out around £800,000 on staff restructuring – ending up with more staff than they had before.
It spent almost the same again on outside contractors.
And almost £40,000 was spent on a staff training exercise at House for an Art Lover, with an expert who “channels” an angel called Emmanuel.
Now, as well as increasing rents by 3.9%, MHA, which manages around 3,000 homes in Glasgow, has warned it must make further savings of £750,000 per year.
Two programmes of staff restructuring just three years apart cost the association almost £800,000.
But the accounts show the average number of full-time employees in 2014 was 90. Last year’s figures showed 101.
Five years ago, there were just two staff earning up to £70,000 but last year’s paperwork showed one earning up to £80,000, two up to £100,000 and two up to £130,000.
Headed by chief executive Bryony Willett, the association has two more executive officers: Jennifer Simon, director of operations, and Rebecca Wilson, director of resources. And last year, MHA, which showed operating deficits of more than £1m, spent almost £800,000 on outside contractors, legal fees and consultants.
Glasgow Maryhill MSP Bob Doris said: “Using tenants’ income in such a manner will go down like a lead balloon in the communities I represent.
“It leaves some tough questions for MHA to answer. It has a relatively new chief executive and the housing association is developing ambitious regeneration plans. It is
particularly important they use public funds wisely to deliver on these ambitions.”
Lesley Carnegie, MHA performance and governance manager, said MHA held a “value for money workshop” to discuss the £800,000 cost of outside consultants and services.
She said the spend covered “a range of areas where we do not have the required skills in-house or, where external, independent advice is required by our board”.
Ms Carnegie said a large part was spent on legal fees and other items covering asbestos checks and removals “to ensure the safety of our customers”.
The association spent £191,000 on recruitment agencies and temporary staff, £116,000 on software, £107,000 on property investment support, and £102,000 on advice including asset management and finance.
The association insisted that almost £40,000 spent on training with the Meta
consultancy firm in 2016 was “well within our budget”.
Meta’s chief executive is Jo Clarkson, who can be seen on video-sharing site YouTube talking about his alter ego Emmanuel, an angel, whom he “channels” to spread joy and love.
In one of his messages to his followers, Jo/Emmanuel says: “If you want the world to be a kinder place – be kinder. If you wish the world to be a more tolerant place – be more tolerant.
“If you wish the world to be more accepting and loving – be more accepting and loving. If you want the world to be more generous and more abundant, then be more generous and abundant.”
Ms Carnegie said Meta were employed to “deliver a four-day training workshop for 95 staff” at House for an Art Lover, which ended with “staff games”.
She said: “Maryhill Housing is an equal opportunities organisation and cannot comment on the individual trainer’s personal life or beliefs.”
Ms Carnegie said the contract was put out to tender, and that “staff training does not constitute a regulatory matter nor was it a notifiable event to the Scottish Housing Regulator”.
She said the association was committed to a value for money policy, adding: “In past years there was significant use made of agency staff.
“This is another benefit of our recent restructure – we now have a permanent and stable staff team in place, able to build positive relationships with our customers.”
But a recent survey showed the average customer approval rating was down from 83% three years ago to 80% this year.
Earlier this year it emerged MHA had failed to submit its accounts to the charity regulator on time. Officials later cited an administrative error.
The Scottish Housing Regulator said: “We expect all social landlords to be well governed and financially healthy.
“Our engagement with Maryhill is focused on the programme to build new homes.”
Jo Clarkson’s business partner, Di Kamp, said: “We are a company who helps organisations to develop their culture so that their people and the company thrives and can deal with change.
“We have done a lot of work with housing associations and have good awareness of the specific issues that affect them.
“The channelling Jo does is not linked to our work – it is something that he does as a private individual.”